The Coronavirus Bill published by the government contains new powers to regulate the use of premises and to control events and gatherings.
The government has published the Coronavirus Bill that gives additional powers to the government and its counterparts in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to respond to the current pandemic.
For real estate, the key provisions are in clause 50 and Schedule 21 of the bill. There are separate parts to schedule 21 for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The powers are the same in each although the parts for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland contain additional provisions in relation to the powers of enforcement where a breach takes place.
Schedule 21 give powers to close or restrict access to premises (defined widely) and to prevent gatherings and events taking place. These provisions are summarised below. Failure to comply with any restrictions imposed under these provisions will be a criminal offence.
To which premises do the new provisions apply?
Premises are defined widely. They apply to any place (including Crown premises) including vehicles, trains, vessels, aircraft, tents, movable structures and any offshore installation. They do not include the parliamentary estate” the land and buildings used by the parliament of the United Kingdom.
When can the powers be exercised?
The secretary of state can make a declaration under schedule 21 if, at any time, the Secretary of State is of the view that the incidence or transmission of coronavirus constitutes a serious and imminent threat to public health in England and the powers conferred by schedule 21 will be an effective means of preventing, protecting against, delaying or otherwise controlling the incidence or transmission of coronavirus in England, or facilitating the most appropriate deployment of medical or emergency personnel and resources in England.
Powers in respect of events or gatherings
The secretary of state can issue a direction prohibiting, or imposing requirements or restrictions in relation to, the holding of an event or gathering in England. This can apply to a specified event or gathering or to events or gatherings of a specified description. The direction can impose prohibitions, requirements or restrictions on:
- the owner or occupier of premises for an event or gathering to which the direction relates;
- the organiser of such an event or gathering; and
- any other person involved in holding such an event or gathering.
Powers in respect of premises
The secretary of state can issue a direction imposing prohibitions, requirements or restrictions in relation to the entry into, departure from, or location of persons in premises. The direction may be issued in relation to specified premises or premises of a specified description.
The secretary of state can impose prohibitions, requirements or restrictions on:
- the owner or occupier of premises to which the direction relates;
- any other person involved in managing entry into, or departure from, such premises; or
- the location of persons in them.
The direction may, among other things, impose requirements for the purpose of:
- closing the premises;
- restricting entry into the premises;
- securing restrictions in relation to the location of persons in the premises.
The direction may impose prohibitions, requirements or restrictions by reference to, among other things:
- the number of persons in the premises;
- the size of the premises;
- the purpose for which a person is in the premises;
- the facilities in the premises;
- a period of time.
Powers for breach
Failure to comply with a direction issued by the secretary of state is a criminal offence punishable by fine. Corporate bodies can be guilty of an offence together with any officer of the corporate body who consented to or connived in the failure to comply or the failure to comply was due to the neglect of that officer. An officer is defined as a director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate.